NETANYAHU AS ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: DEJA VU
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
With Binyamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud Party, about to become Israel's next Prime Minister, one wonders whether he will stick to his more controversial campaign promises – not that of confronting the Iranian threat, which is widely backed, but such promises as ending Hamas control of Gaza or keeping the Golan Heights.
Two indicators suggest what may lie ahead: (1) the general pattern of the four Likud Prime Ministers since 1977 and (2) specifically, Netanyahu's own record as one of those four.
Levi Eshkol (P.M., 1963-1969) once acknowledged the deceit of Israeli politics: "I never promised to keep my promise!" In this spirit, three out of the four Likud leaders campaigned Right and governed Left, breaking their campaign promises not to retreat from territories Israel seized in 1967.
Menachem Begin (P.M., 1977-1983) was elected in 1977 on a nationalist platform that included annexing parts of the West Bank; he, instead, removed all troops and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula.
Yitzhak Shamir (P.M., most of 1983-1992) ran on a platform against giving land to Arabs and kept his word.
Netanyahu (P.M., 1996-1999) promised to retain the Golan Heights, but nearly traded away that territory; opposed the Oslo accords, but ceded more control in the Hebron and Wye accords to the Palestinian Authority.
Ariel Sharon (P.M., 2001-2006) won the 2003 elections arguing against a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, then did exactly that, withdrawing all troops and civilians.
Surveying Likud's history, Nicole Jansezian notes with irony at Newsmax that, "While Palestinian, American, and European leaders worry how Israel's shift to the Right will negatively impact the peace process, perhaps the only ones who need to fear an Israeli Rightwing government is the Israeli Rightwing."
Shamir's opinion of Netanyahu plummeted after watching his actions as Prime Minister, seeing him by 1998 as willing to do just about anything "to continue to be elected and to hold on to the seat of Prime Minister." I went through a similar process of disillusionment, celebrating Netanyahu's accession in 1996, but so soured on his lack of principles that I reluctantly preferred his Labor Party opponent in the 1999 elections.
What now, as Netanyahu prepares to take office again? Neither his Party's history, nor his own biography, nor his character, nor murmurs coming out of Israel suggest that he will keep his electoral promises. Indeed, Netanyahu already flunked his first test: after 65 of Israel's 120 members of Parliament informed President Shimon Peres that they supported Netanyahu for Prime Minister, Peres on February 20, 2009, gave Netanyahu a chance to form a government.
Netanyahu proceeded to ditch those allies in favor of forming a "national unity" government with Leftist parties, notably Kadima and Labor. He even announced that his biggest mistake in 1996 had been not to form a government with Labor: "In retrospect, I should have sought national unity, and I'm seeking to correct that today." Kadima and Labor appear to have decided to go into the opposition, foiling Netanyahu's plans. But that he preferred a coalition with the Left reveals the lightness of his campaign statements.
Along these lines, when asked by an interviewer, "You're not the Rightwing hawk they describe in the papers?" Netanyahu proudly recalled the betrayal of his promises in the 1990s: "I'm the person who did the Wye agreement and the Hebron agreement in the search for peace."
On the Golan Heights, diplomacy has apparently begun. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the importance of Syria-Israel talks "cannot be overstated." Despite Netanyahu's ostensibly rejecting these negotiations, a close aide observed that a breakthrough with Damascus offers a way to curry favor with the Obama administration and Netanyahu would expect Washington, in return, "to give him a break with the Palestinians."
Insiders assure me Netanyahu has matured and I hope they are right. But a Likud leader, while watching the coalition talks, observed:
Similarly, Netanyahu's opponents expect him to pursue his personal agenda: Yaron Ezrahi, a political scientist at Hebrew University, says Netanyahu has little compunction "in sacrificing an ideological position as long as it keeps him in power."
Even as I hope to be pleasantly surprised, familiar patterns do make me worry.
© Daniel Pipes 2009
Originally Published in the Jerusalem Post, March 11, 2009
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, March 10, 2009
Article URL: http://www.danielpipes.org/article/6225/
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Dr. Daniel Pipes, a Ph.D. in Islamic History (Harvard University, 1978), is the Founder and Director of the Middle East Forum, the Founder of Campus Watch, a signatory of the Project for the New American Century, a former board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, a former adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Golden Circle supporter of the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon, a former member of the U.S. Department of Defense Special Task Force on Terrorism and Technology, and a former lecturer at the U.S. Naval War College, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Pipes was the Director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute from 1986 to 1993.
Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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